Want to turn your new HP iPAQ h2210 Pocket PC into a cell phone? How about a wireless email and web-browsing device? Now you can, thanks to the G1 GSM/GPRS CompactFlash Card manufactured by Chi Mei Communications Systems and sold in the United States by Convergent Technology. Just load some software onto your iPAQ, pop the card into the slot, configure it to access your cellular carrier’s network, and, voila, you’re wireless!
Well, there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the general picture. I’ve been testing the card for a few days now and have been pleasantly surprised, although it’s by no means a perfect solution. So here’s what I discovered about Convergent Technology’s G1 GSM/GPRS CompactFlash Card — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Before we get started, understand that the card does not come with wireless service. You must already have GSM/GPRS service through a carrier such as AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, or T-Mobile in the United States. (I used AT&T Wireless for my testing.) And the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card provided to you by your carrier must be configured for GSM coverage if you plan to use it for voice calls and GPRS data transmission if you plan to browse the web and access your email.
The good news is that the card is small and lightweight, and the nub that protrudes from the top is solid and unobtrusive. In fact, it weighs less than an ounce and sticks up only about 3/4 of an inch from the device, which is slightly more than a slim Wi-Fi card. Its antenna secures in place at the top or rotates 360 degrees to aid in obtaining a signal.
It also comes with excellent software, Running Voice GSM from Pocket Presence, to provide the user interface for the phone functions, which include a finger-sized Dialpad, a Box Manager that tracks calls you’ve made and calls you’ve missed, a Message Writer for penning quick SMS messages, Speed Dial with five box slots — again, finger-sized — for your frequent callers, and a Data Manager that provides, among other features, quick links to Pocket Internet Explorer. MSN Messenger and your Inbox. And it’s all well integrated with the Address Book, so there’s no need to reenter all of those numbers.
You can even change ring tones, skins and reassign your hardware buttons to phone functions.
The bad news is price. At $250 it’s a relatively expensive accessory. And voice quality is only fair, with a tendency toward “tunnel sound,” at least using the inexpensive ear buds that come with the card. Brighthand editor-in-chief Ed Hardy knew immediately I was calling him from something other than my usual cell phone and remarked that my voice sounded “mechanical” and much deeper.
There’s really not a lot of “ugly” with this accessory. It works well as a cell phone and when I used it to browse the Web. But if I had to pick on anything it would be setup.
While it includes Flexport GSM software (which it describes as a “wizard”) to help you configure the connection to your carrier, it could be a lot simpler. Sorry folks, but anything that requires entering cryptic strings (like *99#, for example) in a dozen entry panels certainly doesn’t merit the name “wizard” in my book.
Convergent Technology could fulfill its role as an integrator by providing software that automatically configures the device for each of the major carriers. Simply select Cingular, AT&T or T-Mobile from a drop-down list and everything is configured. Instead it provides instructions on its website that the user must follow. While this may not be very difficult for technically adept users, it’s extremely off-putting to a businessperson looking to wirelessly enable his iPAQ.
Update: I’ve received an email from a Convergent Technologies spokesperson saying his company has followed my suggestion and released an updated install wizard that is, thankfully, much easier to set up. More details can be found on the company’s web site.
Overall, the G1 GSM/GPRS CompactFlash Card brings wireless voice and data to the iPAQ, without the addition of much size and weight. However, it can be frustrating to set up for the average user and it will set you back $250, plus your monthly cellular service costs.